Beta glucan is a type of fiber that’s responsible for many of the health-promoting properties of foods like oats, wheat, and barley.

It has been studied extensively for its effects on heart health and cholesterol levels, as well as been shown to boost immunity and stabilize blood sugar levels.

As such, you may wonder how to increase your intake of beta glucan to reap its many health benefits.

This article takes an in-depth look at beta glucan, including what it is, how it works, and how it could affect your health.

assorted grains in paper sacksShare on Pinterest
Mosuno/Stocksy United

There are two main categories of dietary fiber — soluble and insoluble.

Soluble fiber is a type of fiber that dissolves in water and forms a thick, gel-like substance. On the other hand, insoluble fiber doesn’t dissolve. Instead, it absorbs liquid as it travels through your digestive tract (1).

Beta glucan is a specific form of soluble dietary fiber. It’s found in the cell walls of certain types of plants and some yeasts, bacteria, fungi, and algae. You can also find it in supplement form.

It has been linked to a long list of potential health benefits and studied extensively for its ability to lower cholesterol levels, decrease inflammation, improve blood sugar management, and more (2).

Summary

Beta glucan is a type of soluble fiber found in the cell walls of certain plants. It’s available in foods and supplements and associated with a variety of health benefits.

Like other types of soluble fiber, beta glucan slows the passage of food as it travels through your intestines.

This increases how long it takes your body to digest food, which can keep you feeling full for longer (1, 2).

Beta glucan also slows the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream. This can help stabilize blood sugar levels and improve blood sugar regulation (1, 2).

Additionally, this fiber reduces the absorption of cholesterol in your digestive tract to support healthy blood cholesterol levels (1, 2).

Summary

Beta glucan moves slowly through your digestive tract. It can help stabilize blood sugar levels and reduce cholesterol absorption to support heart health.

Beta glucan is found naturally in a variety of food sources.

Grains like barley and oats contain the highest concentration of beta glucan, though it’s also found in other foods.

Good sources include (2):

  • oats
  • barley
  • sorghum
  • rye
  • maize
  • triticale
  • wheat
  • durum wheat
  • rice
  • mushrooms
  • seaweed

Additionally, the fiber is found in certain types of bacteria and fungi, including Saccharomyces cerevisiae, which is used to make nutritional yeast, wine, beer, and some baked goods. However, this doesn’t mean that alcoholic drinks are a good source of beta glucan (3).

Summary

Beta glucan is found in cereal grains like barley, oats, sorghum, and rye, as well as mushrooms, seaweed, and certain types of yeast.

Beta glucan has been linked to a variety of health benefits.

Boosts heart health

Several studies have found that beta glucan may promote heart health and protect against heart disease.

In fact, in 1997, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a health claim stating that beta glucan from whole oats, oat bran, and whole oat flour might reduce the risk of heart disease (4).

This is because the fiber can lower the levels of total and LDL (bad) cholesterol in your blood, both of which are risk factors for heart disease (5, 6).

According to one study, consuming 3 grams of beta glucan per day for 8 weeks decreased levels of LDL cholesterol by 15% and reduced total cholesterol by nearly 9% (7).

Beta glucan is also rich in antioxidants, which are compounds that can help neutralize harmful free radicals, prevent inflammation, and protect against chronic conditions like heart disease (8).

Regulates blood sugar levels

Some research suggests that beta glucan could improve blood sugar management.

According to a review of 4 studies, taking 2.5–3.5 grams of beta glucan daily for 3–8 weeks can reduce fasting blood sugar levels and improve long-term blood sugar regulation in people with type 2 diabetes (9).

Other studies have found that adding beta glucan to carb-containing meals might reduce blood sugar and insulin levels after eating (10).

What’s more, another large review reported that consuming more cereal fiber, including beta glucan, could be associated with a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes (11).

Stimulates the immune system

Although more research in humans is needed, some studies suggest that beta glucan could benefit immune health.

In fact, multiple animal and test-tube studies have found that beta glucan could help activate immune cells and protect against infection (12).

More specifically, beta glucan has been shown to increase the activity of certain types of immune cells, including macrophages, neutrophils, and monocytes (13).

Plus, other test-tube and animal studies have shown that beta glucan may reduce levels of several markers used to measure inflammation, including tumor necrosis factor (TNF), interleukin-1 beta (IL-1β), and interleukin-6 (IL-6) (14, 15, 16).

Summary

Beta glucan may promote heart health, stabilize blood sugar levels, and stimulate immune function.

Beta glucan supplements are often used to enhance heart health, as they can reduce levels of total and LDL (bad) cholesterol.

Like other fiber supplements, they can also boost your fiber intake, improve blood sugar regulation, promote digestive health and regularity, and support weight management (17).

In some cases, beta glucan is even applied topically to accelerate wound healing and tissue repair (18).

What’s more, this fiber is sometimes used as a natural treatment for cancer, thanks to its ability to stimulate the activity of immune cells in your body (19).

However, because most research on the effects of beta glucan on cancer is limited to test-tube and animal studies, more studies in humans are needed.

Summary

Beta glucan supplements are used to increase fiber intake and promote heart health, blood sugar regulation, digestive health, and weight management. It’s also sometimes used in cancer treatment, although more research is needed.

According to the FDA, consuming 3 grams of beta glucan per day can help reduce cholesterol levels (2).

Fortunately, most people can easily meet this recommendation by enjoying a variety of fiber-rich food as part of a well-rounded diet.

For example, 1 cup (81 grams) of dry oats and 1/2 cup (100 grams) of raw barley contain about 6.5 grams and 20 grams of beta glucan, respectively. This equals around 1.6 grams of beta glucan per 1/2 cup of cooked oats and 4 grams per 1/2 cup of cooked barley (2).

Still, some people choose to take supplements to boost their intake.

Keep in mind that not all supplements are created equal. If you chose to purchase supplements, opt for products made by reputable retailers that have undergone third-party testing to ensure safety and quality.

Furthermore, know that beta glucan supplements may interfere with certain medications, including immunosuppressants and those used to treat diabetes or high blood pressure (20).

Lastly, taking a fiber supplement, including beta glucan, can cause digestive side effects like nausea, bloating, or diarrhea in some individuals — especially if you’re not used to eating much fiber (21).

Therefore, it’s best to talk with your doctor before using beta glucan supplements, especially if you’re taking these medications or have any underlying health conditions.

Summary

Although most people can get enough beta glucan from their diet, taking a supplement can be an easy way to increase your intake.

Beta glucan is a type of soluble fiber found naturally in a variety of food sources, including oats, barley, sorghum, and rye.

It has been associated with numerous health benefits and may help lower cholesterol levels, improve blood sugar management, and boost immune health.

It’s also widely available in supplement form and used as a natural treatment for many different conditions.

Still, the best way to increase your intake is by enjoying a variety of nutritious, fiber-rich foods as part of a healthy diet.